Pittsburgh Emerging As Sports Juggernaut

Todd FlemingAnalyst IApril 26, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers dives into the endzone for a touchdown in the first quarter but the play was ruled no touchdown on a coaches' challenge against the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

In 1979, I was seven-years-old.  It is a year I will never forget and some of my most vivid childhood memories date back to it. 

It was arguably the best year in Pittsburgh's storied sport history.

The Steelers dynasty of the '70s won their fourth Super Bowl.  And the "We are Family" Pirates stormed back from being down 3-1 to beat the Orioles and capture the World Series.  

I remember waiting at the barber shop while my dad was getting a haircut, listening to the barber lament that he didn't think the Pirates had a chance (down 3-1), but he hoped they could at least win the next game.  They came back and won the series in thrilling fashion.  It was just an all-around great year to be a Pittsburgh sports fan. 

Remember the Sports Illustrated cover featuring Terry Bradshaw and Captain Willie Stargell?  It remains one of my all-time favorites.

Don't look now, but Pittsburgh is once again becoming one of the premier sports cities in America.   

The Steelers stand as the model NFL franchise and have captured two Super Bowls in four years.  They have a good shot at repeating this year, with the best clutch quarterback in the league, a ferocious defense, and a championship roster that returns mostly intact.

The Penguins just dispatched their most-hated rival and are moving on to the second round of the playoffs.  They put together an improbable late season run to move from well outside the playoff standings to becoming one of the favorites to drink from the Cup.  If they do capture the Cup, it will be 1979 all over again, with Pittsburgh sports teams capturing two of sports most coveted championships.

The Pirates are also getting in on the act.  While it is hard to imagine them winning a championship, the fact that they are still in contention after a month of play is a major step forward.  They have some of the best pitching in the league and these guys are playing hard. 

They are no longer the joke of the league, the team that everyone wants to play.  They are gunning down some of the premier teams in the National League.

Even on the basketball front, Pittsburgh fans have had plenty to cheer about.  The Pitt Panthers just finished up what was likely their best season in history, earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and advancing to the Elite Eight. 

While their run ended a little bit earlier than we would have liked, that does not diminish their incredible achievement.  For sports fans, the sad truth is that except for the fans of one team, everybody else will end the season disappointed. 

But, the fact remains that the Pitt Panthers were one of the best college basketball teams in the country.  And, with one of the best coaches in college basketball in Jamie Dixon, they will remain a national power.  Even the long struggling Duquesne Dukes had their moments this year, to include their upset win over Xavier.

And college football also gave us plenty to cheer about.  Penn State was one of the top teams in the Big 10, returning Joe Paterno to a slim lead over Bobby Bowden in the race to become college football's winningest coach. 

While Penn State may not be a Pittsburgh team, there are enough area connections to warrant their inclusion here.

Very few other cities can boast anywhere close to this kind of recent success across several sports teams.  Pittsburgh may not be one of the nation's bigger or more influental cities, but in the sports world, it is a national power.